Something I Wrote

Stylistic clown eyes track you from the frames on the faded wall. You lay dormant, stagnating on your mattress prison. The sweet and acrid smell of the plastic waste bag hanging from you fills the room. The carpet is dusty, more flecks of dirt gather each day and you realise you have counted, your head lolling atop the cushioned domain. In the blurry corners of your senses the Television babbles, the faded movies of your youth that “they just don’t make like that anymore,” as William says, or maybe used to say.

Your tongue is swollen and clumsy as you try to reach out, try to tell them that you must get back to the house and collect the children. That woman is treating them all wrong, and there are only so many times one can eat chicken soup with stale bread. You would give them anything just then, open wide the sweet jar from the shelf only you could reach, never mind it being bedtime. To hell with beds, to hell with the linen sheets that clasp the cold sweat of your flesh, and the Venus flytrap depths of the sinking duvet dragging you deeper with each struggle.

But you are forty years too late, and it is “time for your medication, Evelyn.”

 

Note:

I don’t share much of my creative writing, I get worried that it will reveal too much, or that some fool will steal parts of it for whatever reason. So please don’t.

Smoking around your children is a form of abuse

If this subject offends you, feel free to ignore. But regardless of passive smoking, children’s attitudes to their parents smoking exist and shouldn’t be ignored, a good article I read in December 2011 is here. Attitudes to smoking are changing, let’s hope this continues. The way I see it is simple; if one person in a room has a drink it does not get everyone else in the room drunk, but if a smoker lights up a cigarette everyone in that room is forced to smoke it. And for those who argue ‘they are free to leave the room,’ what if it is a child in their own home? A seven year old child can’t very well pack their bags and leave home to avoid it, in fact they would have built up some unknowing level of addiction themselves from inhaling multiple packs per year. Second hand smoke in a room can contain enough toxic chemicals to equate to 10 cigarettes.

Yet there’s this attitude some smokers have: “I’m not addicted I can quit anytime I want” or “passive smoking can’t be that harmful or they wouldn’t survive past 50 or 60” or even “It won’t happen to me, I won’t get the big C word,” the ‘C’ being Cancer of course, and a level of naivety suggesting that some believe the only risk of smoking is lung cancer or dying young. It is true that not every smoker will develop cancer or die young, but every smoker will develop nicotine addiction and detriment their health, there are no exceptions. The only variable is to what extent their health will suffer, and when. You can always tell a long-term smoker from a non-smoker, the coughing, or the way they get out of breath going up stairs, the way it limits them whether they deny it or not. Even an unfit, obese non-smoker who gets out of breath the same way does not have that phlegm-filled rattling breathing of a long-term heavy smoker, though obesity is just as big a problem, and has caused controversy of its own when morbidly obese children overfed by their parents have been temporarily taken into care, returned when a healthy eating plan has been put into place (I am not advocating this, just mentioning its relevance.)

We can no longer claim complete ignorance; images of blackened lungs adorn our cigarette packets, and we are not sold the supposition that ‘smoking is good for your health’, you will have whiter teeth, be more sexy or sophisticated, this type of advertisement was abolished, and goes beyond the irony of the Marlboro man dying from lung cancer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; this post is not to preach anti-smoking, just anti-smoking around your children. I know many smokers who have the decency and sense to smoke outside so that their children or partners are not forced to inhale it, and especially not in an enclosed space like a car. Yet in the area I live in I am confronted by all sorts of shocking images: pregnant mothers-to-be walking down the street casually smoking, fathers walking with their young children shrouded in a cloud of their smoke, and parents kneeling to check on their infant in the pram, exhaling their cigarette smoke right in their child’s face. This sickens me beyond words.

Smoke as much as you want, it’s a free world, but don’t subject your child to it before they’re old enough to decide to avoid it or take it up themselves. In other words, when your ‘human rights’ impede on your child’s in a way that damages their physical wellbeing it is simply wrong. It is not just your own health you are risking, it is theirs, and there is no ‘maybe’ or ‘but…’ about it, this is not some debateable philosophical question, it is the cold hard facts of scientific research into smoking which we are privileged to be in possession of. My sympathy is with the people of the past who were lied to by advertisements, tricked into smoking without the health facts and unable to make an informed choice, and with the children of our current generation still forced to be non-consensual smokers.

Even if your non-consensual (passive) smoker child does not develop a life threatening or long-term condition such as cancer, bronchitis, asthma, or infection, they will develop some level of addiction and a higher risk of taking up smoking later in life, and why risk it? As parent or guardian to your child these are the type of the risks and dangers your child deserves to be protected from, not have inflicted upon them.

It is not debateable or deniable that smoking harms your health (to whatever extent), it is therefore not deniable that smoking around your children is an abusive risk to their health undertaken by an adult responsible for protecting their children from harm.

This is not meant to be an eloquent, witty or controversial piece of writing, it is a rant. Rant over.

Mind over matter, can thinking kill you?

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

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Having just read this Guardian article, ‘The nocebo effect’, I’m reminded of how powerful the human brain is. Neurology is my special interest, and the ways that our psychology can interact with our physiology. We all know that stress does not just affect our minds, the way we think or act, but can physically manifest and even shorten your life (good old telomeres!). “Chill out, you’ll live longer” springs to mind. But can a patient affect the course of their treatment just with their mind?

I’m not talking about magic or supernatural powers. I’m referring to the way emotions and attitudes can affect the chemicals released by the brain, emotions after all are just that. A person with depression can be suffering a simple chemical imbalance; perhaps they are not releasing enough serotonin and can be given a tangible remedy. But a person with a state of mind leading to physical symptoms, this is perhaps more difficult to solve, and highlights the need for positivity and better mental health care in the UK.

Take the scenario of a woman suffering a ‘phantom pregnancy’ whereby the abdomen swells, appetite increases, breasts are tender or even lactating. Or an injured solider who still feels pain or an itch which cannot be scratched in the legs he no longer has. These cases exist in no small number, and phantom symptoms are no less real to the patient than those which are visibly proven, yet they are induced solely by the power of the mind. The mind exists only in the brain, and the brain communicates all vital messages to the rest of the body, even the slightest brain damage can have a huge impact on motion, speech, and personality.

Consider what your mind can do when applied to an actual physical condition, can thinking positively really aid your recovery and is thinking negatively detrimental? I believe so to an extent. For example placebos, be they ethically sound or not, undeniably have a positive effect for some people (be it an illusion or not). Countless studies back this up. But can you create your own placebo; can you trick your body into healing faster?

A very interesting topic relating to neurology is pain, which exists in the brain (ironic considering the brain itself feels no pain!). An interesting study I read a while back by the University of Nottingham is discussed in this video: Mind tricks may help arthritic pain

Would you give change to a homeless drug-addict?

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

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There is a fine line between logic and emotion, and quite often one defies the other. Logic told me the man would use the money he collected to buy more heroin, and that therefore it was wrong, and would be enabling him. But the other part of me knew there was a very slim chance he would at least spend some of it on a hot drink, or something useful, and that I would feel guilty if I just walked past impassively. I knew he was a drug addict from his eyes, his skeletal appearance, the marks, when you’ve seen it all before you know the signs.

I’m not “soft” in a sunshine-and-rainbows, crying at rom-coms, Mother Teresa type way. But I always put myself in another person’s shoes, allowing me to empathise and weigh this with logic. I never just walk past and ignore a homeless person begging for change, or even a charity fundraiser standing neglected with their hopeful bucket, I always give change even if it’s just a little. Does this say something about what kind of a Doctor I will make? I don’t know, but it says something for the way I balance logic with emotion.

In my opinion it is wrong to assume that all homeless people begging for change are drug addicts, and therefore morally wrong to deny them change solely on that basis. Furthermore if they are a drug addict, why are they any less deserving of loose change? As distasteful as it is to enable them, or make any contribution to the grotesque drug business (where someone is always profiting, and others are always losing; their lives, their bodies, their minds or their homes), the beggar has no control over their addiction, and could die from the cold-turkey withdrawal.

Of course, giving them help would be better than giving them change; establishments exist to help drug addicts and homeless people, there are soup kitchens, shelters, Methadone programmes. But nothing is perfect, just as there is no perfect way to handle the scenario laid out in this post, do you:

– Walk past and ignore

– Give them change without knowing whether they are a drug addict or not

– Give them change knowing they are a drug addict (Are the above options doing indirect harm or good?)

– Offer friendly advice about programmes that could benefit them. (Or is this intrusive?)

– Offer to buy food for them rather than give them change (I’ve heard stories of people doing this when they suspect that the money they give would be spent on drugs, therefore this acts as a sort of test, but is this morally sound or not?)

The truth is there is no definite universally applicable right or wrong, it’s all down to the individual. But I find ethics very interesting, and the way empathetic impulses or emotions can lead to views being solidified as law, that is why the law is always changing, particularly medical laws, think about euthanasia, how new cases affect our human rights.

The Difficulties of Getting Into Medical School

English: Insulin type syringe ready for inject...

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Medical Schools are not looking for why they should accept you; they are looking for why they shouldn’t. That may sound cynical but it’s an irrefutable fact that many candidates exceed the entry requirements, yet not all of them can gain an interview or offer of a place. So how do the Universities differentiate between one candidate and another?

Work experience

Are you well informed about the actual demands or pros and cons of being a Doctor? Can you prove it in your UCAS application and talk about it at Interview? Regardless of your age or educational level, work experience is often the thing which differentiates one candidate from another. It demonstrates a hands-on desire to learn about your intended career path, and that you are entering Medicine for the right reasons; because you are aware of what it means to be a Doctor, what the job entails, not because you saw something on Grey’s Anatomy and thought it might be “cool”.

You do not have to have traveled to Kenya to help blind children see again, or have found a cure to cancer, but it often seems that a lot of candidates who are accepted to Medical School have volunteered abroad. What of those who cannot afford to do so? Is it not good enough to have volunteered weekly at a soup-kitchen or been a dedicated fundraiser for your favourite charity? There is a lot one can do without leaving the country and Medical Schools are aware of this.

This is not to detract from the hard work and help many applicants have given to other countries, or to suggest their journey was for the sole purpose of making their personal statements more exciting. But unfortunately this misperception does exist in some form, with some applicants feeling they must pay to go abroad, or be the next Mozart with a musical instrument, and otherwise risk their application being less competitive.

GCSE

Medical Schools must establish how good you look on paper. Some institutions apply significance to GCSE’s; the University of Liverpool School of Medicine states that you must have 9 GCSE’s at grade C and above. You could have gone on to achieve a First Class degree in Biochemical Engineering, but if even one of your 9 GCSE grades is below a C you can forget about applying to Liverpool. It is arguably fair that mature or graduate applicants should meet the same requirements as school-leavers, but with exam retakes being frowned upon by Medical Schools, and even recent academic excellence not compensating for prior GCSE grades, what hope is there for older applicants?

A-Level

Some establishments focus more on A-Levels. Typically grades AAA in Biology, Chemistry and a third subject (for example Physics or Mathematics) are expected, though A*A*A*A*(a) would undoubtedly make an applicant stand out from the rest. If any applicant, be they school-leaver or mature/graduate, does not meet this requirement then this limits their choice of Medical Schools. As an example let us consider an applicant who achieved grades ABC in non-scientific A-Level subjects, then later went on to achieve A*A*A* in science based A-Levels, even then this candidate would not be suitable for UCL Medical School, whom only acknowledge the first set of A-Levels undertaken by the applicant and ignores any later A-Level grades, regardless of academic excellence or the fact they are not retakes. In many ways this is demonstrative of the dreaded feeling that ‘you only get once chance’ with education and pursuing your dream, and leaves many mature/graduate applicants feeling regret over past grades, or not choosing medicine sooner, and that it is ‘too late’ to improve or compensate. This is why Access Medicine courses such as the one at The College of West Anglia can offer a way for mature students to prove their academic ability and suitability to Medicine.

Graduate and Mature Students

I have heard many successful graduates with 2:1 or 1st class degrees say they wish they had never taken a degree, simply because they feel it makes applying to Medical School all the more difficult. Graduates are typically judged more harshly than school-leaver applicants, as if it is a flaw they did not choose or enter Medicine sooner. This is not true for all establishments, some of which are more ‘Graduate friendly’, and realise that applicants who have already succeeded at a degree are often mature, experienced, and able to work hard at a higher academic level, offering a fresh perspective from their chosen subject.

If you are a graduate with a non-scientific degree, this is where selecting medical schools to apply to becomes difficult. Every Medical School is drastically different in their attitudes to mature applicants, ranging from hostility and disapproval to respectful acceptance; some only accept graduates with a science degree, and in general any lower than a 2:1 grade is unacceptable regardless of whether the applicant is entering a Traditional 5 year programme, or accelerated 4-year Graduate entry.

Mature applicants are usually expected to have everything a school-leaver has and more. What can you offer to the Medical School, academically and personally, that a younger applicant might not? This is where you must ‘sell yourself’ in your UCAS Personal Statement, and prove that you have a more in-depth feel for the demands of a career in Medicine, or sophisticated methods for dealing with stress and pressure (which can be backed up by your C.V).

Admissions Tests

The UKCAT (the UK Clinical Aptitude Test): dreaded by many, a walk in the park for others (regardless of their academic ability) invites polar opinions from applicants and Medical professionals alike. Many Doctors agree that the UKCAT does not determine who will or will not make a good Doctor, and that the test should be abolished. Others argue its merit in objectively seeking stronger applicants using a score system, and claim that it is fair because it cannot be revised for; it is not about a candidate’s knowledge, only their ability to think rationally and logically under the pressure of time constraints. Some Medical Schools automatically reject applicants who score below a certain threshold, regardless of their academics or work experience, and invite anyone scoring above a certain amount to interview.

Made up of four sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Abstract Reasoning and Decision Analysis, none of which refer to or contain anything ‘clinical’, this test can play a large role in an applicant’s chances of securing a place at Medical School, so even if you wonder how seeing a pattern in a load of jumbled Abstract shapes relates to your ability to learn Medicine and care for patients, this will most likely be the test you undertake.

Other admissions tests include the GAMSAT (Graduate Medical Schools Admissions Test) which is over five hours long, and based around a candidate’s scientific knowledge, as well as their literate ability, the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test), testing aptitude and skills, scientific knowledge and writing ability. For more information on admissions tests see: wanttobeadoctor.co.uk.

Re-applicants

If you are unsuccessful in securing an interview or place at Medical School, should you try again? This depends on your ambition, whether or not you have at least considered alternative careers, what your financial or family situation is, and whether or not you can improve upon your application. Think from an admissions perspective; they have to reject those that do not meet the requirements, and even many who exceed them, there simply are not enough places to go around. There are applicants who have been unsuccessful for four academic cycles then gained a place on their ‘last try’. There is always hope, but the applicant must be willing to improve.

The harsh truth about Medical School is that it can be subjective, and the line between one applicant who exceeds the entry requirements and is rejected, and another in the same position who is accepted, can be blurry. An applicant can meet the academic/personal requirements yet be rejected without even an interview from one Medical School, yet gain an offer from a Medical School typically deemed to be even more competitive.

The best advice any applicant can follow is to research and select their medical school choices very carefully, contact the admissions teams directly, and be aware that there is no easy way into Medical School just as there is no easy way to complete a Medical degree. If you do not like a challenge, or can find no ways to self-improve, then perhaps Medicine is not the right career choice.

Note: Aspects of this post are opinion based and tongue-in-cheek, but any references to a specific Medical School’s entry requirements are accurate at the time of writing.

Caring for my baby python

Most people freak out when you tell them you’ve bought a python, but they should settle down when you tell them it’s a ball python, also called Python regius, or Royal python, the kind Cleopatra was said to wear round her wrist (not the snake that killed her which was an Asp). They’re the smallest of the African python group, a good-tempered snake with a tendency to be docile and curious. Instead of attacking, they tend to ball up when stressed or threatened, hence ‘ball python’. They’re easy to care for, and I’m about to share what I know from research and experience. This is what works for me, every ball python owner does it differently and usually thinks their way is the only way.

  • Size: Average adult length is between 3 and 4 ft, though females tend to grow bigger, and can get to 5ft or more.  It’s hard to judge age purely by size, because every ball python; eats, moves around, and is affected by their environment differently. Also it can depend upon the size of their parents.
  • Food: Ball pythons can eat live, killed to frozen-thawed mice and rats,. Some owners mix between the options to keep their python interested in eating. But it’s good to stick to a routine when they’re young, this can affect their adult life. Pinkie mice are too small for my python, even though he is small also, he scoffs down mice of the next size up, the little white ones. The prey should be the same size or fractionally larger than the thickest part of the snake’s body diameter.
  • Feeding: Juvenile ball pythons only need one mouse every week, and as they grow up they require even less, a bigger mouse or rat every 2 weeks. At 85p per week, they’re cheap eaters. As an adult they can go a year and a half of fasting, or during winter/shedding/breeding, this is because they are notoriously fussy eaters. One ball python will scoff a mouse every 7-10 days, while another, raised in the same way, can refuse food for months. It’s not always a bad sign, but could indicate an illness, parasite or too much stress from over-handling. Always take your snake to the vet for tests if they continue to refuse food, show dramatic weight loss, their skin becomes saggy, or they’re failing to shed. You’d notice many differences in your snake, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Care: Ball pythons live in Vivarium-type enclosures, or can be housed in plastic tubs. I use a heat mat beneath the floor of the vivarium, as they require warmth and a bit of humidity, and absorb heat through their belly. Never use heat rocks, they can kill snakes, the heat mat isn’t dangerous so long as the temperature is correct (75 – 92 Fahrenheit, that being minimum and maximum), and it’s below the floor and aspen/beech bedding. The heat mat covers one side of the tank, so on the other side it’s the ‘cool area’ where he can slither to have water and cool down. They quite like enclosed spaces, as this makes them feel safe. Although my python has an enclosure that is currently too large for him, he feels safe there because it’s filled with places he can shelter, hide, and crawl around. From day one he’s been eagerly slithering around exploring, he doesn’t stay cooped up in his coconut shell for long, sometimes even hanging out in two shelters at once…

  •  Gaining their trust: After bringing your baby ball python home he needs at least a couple of days to adapt to his or her  new environment, he just needs warmth, clean water (change every other day), food if he wasn’t fed at the shop/breeder’s house. Don’t handle a python at least 24 hours after they’ve eaten, and don’t irritate them whilst they’re shedding, they may scratch a bit using a wood bark enclosure, and can have some lukewarm water in their enclosure to bathe in, though not all the time as this can cause scale-rot. After you know these basic things, you’ll both get on fine. You can familiarise your snake with the idea of being picked up, by gently handling your snake for maybe 5 minutes at a time, then gradually increase the time together, and try not to touch his head or pick him up from a head-on angle. As ball pythons grow older they begin to trust you, and are accustomed to human contact. Always make sure you have clean hands, young pythons in particular are susceptible to germs, parasites, sickness and dust mites (also make sure they have a clean home).
  • Tips: You could try putting an item of your clothing in the enclosure so that your scent becomes familiar to the snake. But when feeding your snake, try not to let it associate your scent with food, so use forceps when dangling the mouse/rat into its home or feeding area, and give him/her some privacy and alone time, they need it as much as we do. Don’t spend loads on rip-off reptile vivarium equipment, half a coconut with a hole for an entrance makes a great hide, a clean kitchen roll tube makes a great tunnel to play and hide in, and a desert bowl or sturdy bowl of any kind that won’t spill easily can make a perfect water bowl. Just be careful what wood you use, cedar and pine are definite no no’s, but aspen shavings and beech chips can be fine.
Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And if you don’t like the way I do things, that’s fine, because my little python Jackson loves it  :)

Where would you most like to go?

Having just gotten back from Orlando, Florida, where temperatures soared even among indecisive thunderstorms, I’m now craving an arctic adventure. One day, further on in my medical career, I’d love to work and help out at the Inuvik Regional Hospital, of which I’ve heard good things, how it challenges future doctors on their electives, and has a superb E.R department and team. I’d be happy to go there during the 24 hours of perpetual daylight in one season, or 24 hours of night that the local’s are accustomed to during their drastically contrasting summer and winter, because either would be exhilarating and challenging. I want to feel the crunch of untrodden snow under my boots, the bite of cold on my nose and cheeks, and appreciate stepping into the warmth of indoors after an adventurous day snapping pictures of the vast lakes and landscapes. I wonder what wildlife is there, and whether you’d need a guide to avoid dangerous creatures.

Caring for Venus Flytraps

There are many misconceptions about these beautiful plants. 1) They don’t need as much TLC as people make out, so long as you get the basics right they can fend for themselves. 2) They’re not actually tropical plants; their origins trace back to South (and North) Carolina, but you’ll find them in the tropical section of garden centres because they like warmth and humidity, and 3) “They die really easily” This isn’t true, they appear dead and brown during their winter dormancy, but come springtime they’re able to grow again. Everybody needs a rest now and then, including Dionaea!

The two Venus Flytraps I bought from separate garden centres were both in pretty bad health, because the garden centres don’t usually know how to care for them properly. I rescued one from near the checkout, where a whole basket of them were left starved of flies and sunlight; it was actually eating itself, as you can see if you look closely above.

But since then it’s grown many new traps to replace the dying ones, and even divided into two separate flytraps. Below you can see the baby flytrap hiding amongst the bigger one, and it was catching its own prey long before the baby shoots from the main plant were grown enough to do that. Above is my second venus flytrap, growing a flower which most growers cut, because it takes energy away from the traps…but I let it do it’s natural thing.I separated the baby trap to make sure it had its own space, you have to be very careful when repotting; peat moss, soil with no chemicals, and perlite or sand work well. You shouldn’t repot very often as it’s a trauma to the plant, but because they were already in bad health from the shop, I figured no more harm could come to them. Below is the baby flytrap:

And here’s all three together, a happy Flytrap family:

They should never be watered from on top, instead about 2cm of rainwater should be added to their tray so that the roots and soil can absorb as much water as they need. Never give them bottled or tap water, the chemicals will eventually kill them. They quite like humidity, but instead of spending tones on a terrarium you can pick up a decent sized cake box from Poundland, burn a few holes into the top and sides (they need decent air circulation) and they’ll thrive in there! Most important is they need lots of direct sunlight, if the leaves go yellowish it means they aren’t getting enough, but if the leaves get brown patches it may mean that they aren’t used to that much yet, ease them into their new environment.

Because of how moist the soil will be, and the amount of insects that will be attracted to them….even through the cakebox (see below)…it does mean they’re at risk from pesky bugs that can pose a threat to them (I know, ironic!). To stop those bugs from eating their leaves, damaging their roots or generally stealing the goodness from the soil, I recommend: Provado Ultimate Bug Killer spray, because it gets the job done without harming your plant (obviously don’t spray too much though). There’s a similar product that deals with Fungus Control; you don’t want your plant to rot from how moist it is, or any mould from dead flies. That’s why sand and Perlite in the soil help it not to get too soggy.

Everyone cares for their traps differently, so there’s bound to be trap-breeders who don’t agree with my method, but this has worked wonders for mine. Good luck! And comment if you’ve any questions.

Facebook as Prosthesis

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Facebook as Prosthesis by Ruth Noakes 

(snippet from from my dissertation when I was a student in London)
Facebook, the social networking website, was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz from their dormitory room at Harvard, and within just two years it had twelve million users, which increased exponentially in 2008 with sixty-seven million users, and over fourteen million photos are uploaded daily[i]. Social networks can be seen to give people some control over projecting perceptions of themselves, and affirming current ideas of what the self consists of; ‘online social networks free us, in some sense, from the requirements of “real world” circumstances and permit us to try out various self conceptions to find ones that fit with what we would like to be’[ii]. Concedingly, Waters claims that ‘for the posthuman, there is no autonomous self that is given, because the self can only be made’[iii]

As a result of my research methodologies I was able to gather up to date, and currently relevant information to aid my case study. Therefore I needed a current media and technology example to illustrate my findings, and decided that the most prominent case within my research thus far was Facebook, because it remains somewhat mysterious and ever changing. I deem that Facebook acts as an interface, which enables common ground for people from a wide range of age groups and social backgrounds, and having gathered primary information from my participant observation, it seemed logical that this area deserved more focus and could aid me in answering the initial research question; to what extent can technology be seen as an extension of the human body or mind. If Facebook can be deemed a form of prosthesis to the human, then perhaps the same can be applied to other technologies.

Using the perspective gathered from having my own Facebook account, this primary research and participatory element should grant an accurate and detailed view of the current uses of Facebook, and the extent to which people allow it to represent them. However, I shall use other contemporary examples of human and machine interactivity to demonstrate how the ‘prosthetic impulse’[iv] affects modern society as a whole as well as in terms of individual identity.

From the detached yet directly involved perspective of my Facebook page, I was able to see why members of the focus groups I conducted spoke of how addictive they found it, and why going without technology was often mostly difficut because of the inability to connect with friends on Facebook. The Facebook ‘news feed’ updates automatically and perpetually, filling with status updates posted by my ‘friends’, including what their current actions are, who they are with, or where they are, this can be seen as ‘contributing to the creation of a permanent present whose intense pace knows no tomorrow’[v], and relates to Heidegger’s ‘presencing’ of what is present[vi], because the constant bringing forth of information, regardless of its purpose, holds meaning, a pre-existing need to share. Virilio is concerned with this speed, and need for constant information and entertainment, and deems that the distorted ‘time span is destroying the rhythms of a society which has become more and more debased’[vii]. If society is thus debased and flattened by technology, this seems to contradict the act of extending or adding prosthesis to the human self; rather Virilio seems to hint at the destruction of life as we know it.

Figure 1, (Permission from Ruairi Glynn) ‘Dancers 2008’ Emergencia Exhibition, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo Brazil 2008.

The relation between biological matter and immaterial thought and meaning, which Merleau-Ponty explores, emphasises that our actions are not merely for survival, but shift to a figurative meaning that ‘manifests’ through bodies ‘a core of new significance: this is true of motor habits such as dancing’[viii]. Using Merleau-Ponty’s perspective, I deduce that dancing could be described as a secondary action, unnecessary for survival but elaborated or extended from our inner thoughts as a means of perceiving the outer world. A contemporary example that illustrates this ‘new significance’ is Ruairi Glynn’s ‘Performative Ecology’ project ‘Dancers 2008’[ix], as shown above in Figure 1. The Dancers, or robots, are built to intuitively react to human facial expressions, dancing in accordance to the emotions they detect through facial recognition software. They have the power to learn new dance routines as well as teaching other Dancers the movements they found to be most successful in inciting response from the human crowd. The Dancers are granted a significant degree of autonomy and intuition, yet remain dependent upon human attention, and reactive to human emotions that they cannot ever feel themselves. Similarly, Facebook seems to grow in its autonomy, as it is programmed to intuitively detect a user’s preferences; I discovered that whatever you type is detected by Facebook, which then proceeds to place advertisements on the home page, related to your words. Facebook encourages you to click ‘like’ on brand pages, and asks you to engage in polls determining your response to certain products. Facebook institutionalises culture to an extent; marketing ploys tell us to invite more friends, to perpetuate the Facebook brand. Facebook is about profit, but beneath the material profit lays meaning, of which Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger would encourage the exploration.

Niedzviecki states that ‘from Facebook to WebCams to blogs to Reality TV we are actively involved in trading our privacy for community, shared meaning’[x]; this was also the concession I gained during the focus group methodology. On the most part the older age groups claimed to use Facebook for business reasons or nostalgia, for example, some claimed it was to reconnect with lost friends or family, and reminisce on the past, whereas the younger age groups all emphasised the uses of Facebook as being for plan making, current updates and learning what events were happening in the future.

Figure 2, Dancers 2008, courtesy of Ruairi Glynn.

What if technology has created a secondary or tertiary impulse, which I term as one that is not primary to survival, and has thus subverted our nature? During my participatory observation I noticed that mobile phones, such as the iPhone, encourage the use of Facebook through an application that is just one button click away, and introduced a new feature whereby you can ‘check-in’ to locations. Firsthand I observed, on the news feed, a person check-in at location tagged as their home, and also tagged was the person’s girlfriend. I was shocked that someone would go to the extent of revealing their home’s location on the Internet, but also including a link to the Facebook page of their girlfriend, and publicising such a seemingly private or intimate occasion. This would indeed support the notion of extending our sense of sharing, the Internet representing an interface where sharing too much matters less than it would if it were done face-to-face, and is exemplary of Niedzviecki’s term ‘overshare’. His book ‘The Peep Diaries’, describes our recently evolved ‘Peep Culture’, where we often interact more through machines than directly, essentially spy on others, and allow ourselves to be spied upon by ‘oversharing’ personal information via networking websites; ‘Apple released the iPhone 3G, and global capitalism teetered…yet that single ungainly word, overshare, may prove to be more significant’ for we ‘ushered in a new era: the Era of Peep Culture’[xi].

But perhaps the impulse to over-share is not one of prosthesis, and instead needs a new metaphor more befitting to its context. In ‘The Prosthetic Impulse’, Sobchack recognises Kurzman’s concern regarding the use of prosthesis as a metaphor in modern anthropology[xii]. Kurzman, who is an amputee deems that theorists situate an issue, then retroactively define it using prosthesis and artificial limbs in an attempt to expand ethnographic material, and emphasises that actually it is a reductive term when thus removed from context[xiii]. I am not entirely in agreement with this, because I think a word can be reconceptualised, granted new meaning or context, without having to change the word itself. Facebook certainly extends awareness in terms of current occurrences; as a participant observer I began to learn things about my ‘friends’ which I would not otherwise have known, or would ever before have had the desire to know. Perhaps Facebook is exemplary of the desire to transcend corporeality[xiv] in the paradoxical fashion Grosz demonstrated, and is powered by our desire to share and escape into voyeuristic digital interface. From a posthuman understanding, and the admission of dependency, and interactivity on the part of my focus group members, it seems likely that Facebook acts as a form of prosthesis, in that it offers functions the body could not attain alone.

References and Sources below:

NHS: Let Them Eat Cake! [Latest Health News in Brief]

NHS Reform. The NHS has its flaws but if you privatise it you are essentially minimising patient care but maximising corporate competition. This belittles the principles of Medicine and healthcare, making it all about profit, money and marketing, rather than caring for people. The only people who win in a Privatised and essentially fragmented NHS are the companies that compete for a stand in Healthcare, whose products and service are not the best but cost the private sector less.

Privatising the NHS is essentially saying “Let them eat cake!” In Marie Antoinette’s world, sure, let the patients eat cake when what they really need is quality healthcare.

I agree with assisted suicide; euthanasia is the kindest gift to offer someone who is in the most extreme circumstance, without any quality of life, and with great suffering. Zürich has voted similarly: click to see news story.

Social networking has become more than just social, it is used in Medical schools, some of which in the UK give out smart-phones to students so that they can carry digital textbooks. There are many pros, but I wonder about the cons; for example, will it deter students from being intuitive or self-sufficient if they rely upon a mobile device for the answers to a correct dosage, will it bias the diagnostic process?

Twitter ‘vital’ link to patients, say doctors in Japan: Click   

Lines between plastic surgery and beauty treatments are diminished, but what by? I believe it is the easier access to cosmetic surgeries and procedures which make them less taboo, more easily attainable and therefore more likely that someone will be inclined towards them (the sheep effect; everyone else is doing it so why not you?). Click here for details.

Obese pregnant women are being given Metformin, usually for diabetics, to reduce the risk of obesity in their babies.

Casualty fan saves baby’s life with skills learned from show:http://tinyurl.com/5ux23q4

Monkey HIV vaccine ‘effective’ I really hope this can give us some insight into a way to cure human HIV victims, and yes I say victims because no one chooses to have HIV/AIDs, however they contract it. I remain dubious, because many ‘cures’, or proposed ones, have been and gone. I’m just glad the research continues, and we’ve gotten so far with extending the lives of HIV victims, delaying full AIDs.

Doctors want a decision on the NHS, but the wrong choice could cause further disarray. Personally I am opposed to the NHS reform, but I wanted to hear the other side of the argument so I went to the Royal Society of Medicine debate; arguments for the reform revolved around increased efficiency, quality of products and care, as well as time management. However, I’m doubtful of that, increased corporate competition will commodify health, and prioritise profit over care.

How Superbugs attack; The research carried out at BMC Systems Biology discovered genes responsible for MRSA‘s grown resistance to the Methicillin antibiotic. As a type of Staphylococcus aureus, it is of interest to my upcoming lab project, where I will measure the rate of growth in bacterial resistance. A toxin taken from the skin of a bullfrog has proven effective in destroying MRSA.

Hanna 2011 (Mini Movie Review)

So, I watched Hanna (2011) (directed by Joe Wright) yesterday and am pleased to report it lived up to my expectations.

Not sure why it made me reminisce on a few older films, as if it paid homage to tiny aspects of each; Run Lola Run (1998) – the fast paced style and the running of course, The Last Samurai (2003) – training in the woods, Under the Mud (2006) – no idea why this came to mind when watching Hanna, perhaps the vaguely surreal inclinations within the movie style, The Fifth Element (1997) – the idea of captivity and experimentation, Universal Soldier (1992) – genetic interventions, Leon (1994) – assassination and the father/daughter relationship, The Bourne Identity (2002) – intelligence, pursuit, and some similar looking filming locations. The list could go on, because Hanna made me think of films that I like, and was in no way trying to imitate them. I know a film is good when it contains elements of some of my older favourites. It made me think of Nikita, and also a book called Shade’s Children, a futuristic world where children are not allowed live past their 14th birthday.

In the film Hanna she is the young lead, trained to be a perfect assassin, and having to fend for herself when sent on a mission to end it all. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in every film she appears in, but here we get to see her full talents flourish, she is so comfortable immersing herself in a character, yet easily makes the audience uncomfortable with her disconcerting stare suiting her character perfectly. Hanna was well cast, Eric Bana as Hanna’s father, Cate Blanchett as a villain. It all tied together perfectly in a dark, subtly surreal journey hinting at the disparity between fairy-tale fiction and grim reality. Hence, Hanna’s attentions to the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which emerge in the plot throughout. The film gripped my attention, and forced me to emote conflictingly, as tumultuously as Hanna’s emotions and adaption to the outside world were portrayed. The soundtrack, thanks to the Chemical Brothers, was intense, complimentary, industrial, electro, akin to Nine Inch Nails in parts, and gave the film a modern edge. It added to the stylistic shooting, and artsy cinematography, at points making it feel like a well made music video, but without the music detracting from the plot.

Go see it!

Crazy riot happening!

Essex police helicopter

Image via Wikipedia

Thought I was going mad when I heard a voices “POLICE POLICE”, turns out there’s a police chopper above, riot down the street, and police cars blocking off the zone, and officers walking around with bleeding noses after trying to regain control. What a peaceful Sunday evening… apparently The Only Way is Essex.

Also I didn’t know that Essex police helicopters were black and yellow in my area until I saw it above my house, but Wiz Khalifa would be pleased.

Help me paint the town pink?

I work as a Care Giver, so I’m aware how necessary Hospices are, they really help people…but sometimes they need help too. That’s where you and I can make a difference.

I want to help St Clare Hospice by raising money, so that they can continue to provide their excellent care to the people that need it most. I’ll be taking part in the Midnight Walk event on June 18th (2011), so please sponsor me or my feet will be tired and sore for nothing!

I’ll be walking 10k around Harlow from 10:30pm till past midnight. You are welcome to join:

http://www.stclarehospice.org.uk/midnightwalk.html

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

So please dig deep and donate now, even small loose change can make a big change. Click the picture below!